After the usual hemming and hawing, horse-trading and partisan hysterics, Congress and the White House have seemingly agreed to a deal to get the country passed the so-called “fiscal cliff.” (Worth noting: The deal passed the Senate early Tuesday morning but has yet to pass the House — meaning that it is not totally done just yet. But, it does appear to be as close to a done deal as possible.)
With the conclusion of this latest round of wait-until-the-last-possible-minute negotiations, we thought it made sense to cut through all the spin and give you what you really want — a list of who won and who lost in the cliff fight.
Our picks are below. Agree? Disagree? The comments section awaits.
* Joe Biden: Biden’s entrance into the cliff negotiations over the weekend — after a personal plea from Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell — seemed to serve as a sort of oiling of locked Congressional gears. The press in the wake of the deal (and even in the runup to the final agreement) will focus on the idea of Biden as the closer, the guy who got the debt ceiling and fiscal cliff deals done for the White House. Couple that image with the lead role Biden will play in whatever legislative package the Obama Administration comes up with on guns and gun control earlier this year and the “Biden as major White House asset” storyline writes itself. That narrative helps Biden in the still-way-behind-the-scenes 2016 game too — although if the fiscal cliff deal is ultimately judged as having given away too much to Republicans, it has the potential to bite Biden down the line.
* Mitch McConnell: The working relationship — built over many years — between Biden and the Kentucky Republican is the story of these fiscal cliff negotiations; without it, there’s a very real possibility no deal gets done. McConnell stayed behind the scenes (as is his preference) for almost the entirety of the fiscal cliff debate but after House Republicans proved unable to move the needle, he stepped in to save the party. (Make no mistake: No deal on the fiscal cliff was a political loser for Republicans; this is an issue they needed to get off the table in order to find better political ground — debt ceiling — to make their stand.) McConnell proved himself (again) as the “Red” of the Senate — he’s a man who knows how to get things.
* President Obama: It appears as though Obama learned the messaging lessons of his past political defeats on things like the economic stimulus. From the start, the President sought to sell the need to raise taxes on the wealthy to the public in a campaign-style pitch that was heavy on the stick and light on the carrot when it came to Republican Members of Congress. Obama’s statement on the eve of the deal might have crossed the line to a bit of spiking the football — more on that later — but it was quite clear he believed he had finally won a message battle with Republicans. That’s because he had.
* Joe Manchin: Manchin’s proposal — known as the CALM Act — to help gently avert the fiscal cliff got him some positive press amid the broadly negative coverage of Congress. Manchin also emerged as the common sense centrist of record — the role long played by retiring Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman — during the fiscal cliff back and forth, not a bad place to be for a Democrat representing Republican-friendly West Virginia.
* Debt ceiling: President Obama’s initial proposal to take the power to raise the debt ceiling from Congress disappeared amid the negotiations over a cliff deal. That means that sometime in late February or early March, there will be (another) fight over whether to raise Congress’ borrowing limit. And, it’s likely to make the fiscal cliff fight look like child’s play when you consider the stakes.
* Legislative jargon: AMT. Chained CPI. UI benefits. This cliff debate was an embarrassment of riches for lovers of Congressional-ese. C-SPAN was in its glory.
* John Boehner: The fiscal cliff talks were cast as a moment for Boehner to cement his legacy as Speaker — to use his years of legislative know-how to find a way to get a “grand bargain” that would set the country on the right financial course through the Republican-controlled House. The exact opposite happened when Boehner’s “Plan B” failed to even make it to the House floor for a vote, a development that effectively sidelined him in the talks and raised questions about how much — if any — control he had over his fellow House Republicans. It’s near-certainty that Boehner will be re-elected Speaker on Thursday but his image clearly took a hit in the cliff negotiations.
* Congress: Members of Congress proved that all the bad things people say about them were, basically, true. They do wait until the last minute to do anything. They are incapable (or close to it) of getting anything “big” done. Their idea of compromise is agreeing on a date sometime in the future when they will — seriously this time — make the hard decisions. The funny thing? Members of Congress, individually, know that what they have done with the debt ceiling and the fiscal cliff is bad politics. But they don’t seem to have the political will or ability to do anything else. Depressing.
* President Obama: Obama’s handling of the fiscal cliff talks felt pitch perfect up until his Monday event with “middle class” citizens. The rally felt too much like a campaign rally — Obama was repeatedly cheered — and the president himself was in a joking mood that didn’t seem to fit the moment. Will it be overshadow the fact that he got a deal? No. But it was an off-key note from the country’s top communicator.
* New Year’s Eve plans: The Fix is not a big New Year’s Eve guy. (It ranks right up there with St. Patrick’s Day in our least favorite holiday list. And, yes, we have a list.) That said, lots of people in and around D.C. had plans to send out 2012 in style and, instead, had to sit around waiting for a deal to be done. What’s that? Only political reporters and Hill types did that? Well, fine then.
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